- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

A top National Rifle Association official said the Obama administration is using the increasingly violent drug cartels in Mexico as an excuse to push for reinstating the ban on assault weapons.

“They’re trying to piggyback this whole phony issue on the back of the tragedy in Mexico,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the gun-rights group, on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program Sunday.

In a speech in Mexico last week, President Obama - who on the campaign trail called for reinstating the ban, which expired in 2004 - said that while the prohibition made sense, pushing for it now would be a political non-starter. But in the meantime, he said, the country should enforce existing laws more vigorously.

White House senior adviser David Axelrod said in another “Face the Nation” segment that the administration will “monitor” the issue, which is complicated by opposition from dozens of moderate Democrats from the more-conservative “red” states.

“If there’s a consensus, we’ll move on it,” Mr. Axelrod said on the program. “We’re faced with an enormous array of challenges, and we need to make some choices as to which to pursue first.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell called on Congress to reinstate the ban, after three Pittsburgh policemen were killed recently by a man with an AK-47. But the Democratic governor said he understands Mr. Obama’s decision not to raise the matter now, with major issues such as the economy and health care on the table.

“But I think it has to be brought up in the near future, because every police organization in this country supports, virtually everyone supports, banning assault weapons,” he said, appearing Sunday on CBS alongside Mr. LaPierre.

Mr. LaPierre said that assault weapons are “functionally no different than any other gun” and that Mr. Rendell and other supporters of the ban are distorting the facts.

The 1994 assault-weapons ban “was enacted … on the basis of saying these were machine guns. That’s a lie. They were rapid-fire. That’s a lie. They made bigger holes. That’s a lie. They were more powerful. That’s a lie. It was lie after lie after lie,” he said. “Congress found it out. That’s why they let it expire, and lies that are found out don’t get re-enacted.”

Mr. LaPierre also accused administration officials of misstating the percentage of guns used in Mexican crimes that are smuggled into Mexico from the U.S., challenging a popularly cited figure of 90 percent that Mr. Obama used in his speech.

He said there is no proof for the figure, which has also been referenced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“I challenge the president of the United States and the media to prove that 90 percent of the guns used by the drug cartels are being smuggled,” Mr. LaPierre said.

“The only people that have ever put up their hand in the air and testified under oath on this is BATF, two weeks ago in Congress. And let me tell you what they said: ‘I’m not sure where those institutes get these numbers,’ ” Mr. LaPierre concluded, referring to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A recent Fox News analysis of the issue noted that the statistic only covers some of the guns that were submitted by Mexico to the BATF for tracing. Of those 11,000 guns, almost 6,000 could be traced, and more than 5,100 of those were linked to the U.S. - or close to 90 percent.

The statistic excludes the 5,000 guns that could not be traced, and also leaves out the 18,000 guns from Mexican crime scenes that were never sent to the U.S. because it was obvious the weapons came from somewhere else.

Mr. Rendell did not address the statistic.

In the often-tense debate, both men echoed traditional arguments for and against increased gun control.

“There’s absolutely no reason under the sun, no rational reason that we should allow people to legally possess these types of semi-automatic assault weapons. They’re made for one purpose. They’re not used in a duck line for hunting. They’re not used in the Olympics for target shooting. They’re used to kill and maim people, and most often it’s police officers,” Mr. Rendell said.

Mr. LaPierre argued that increased gun-control limits won’t deter killers and other criminals.

“Don’t you get it? They’re criminals. They violate all your laws,” he said.

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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